Final playoff push: Cubs hanging on to wild-card spot
David Banks - USA Today Sports

Final playoff push: Cubs hanging on to wild-card spot


by - Staff Writer -

We at CUBSHQ are here to break down the action of the NL Central periodically as the season winds down.

Here is our 14th NL Central Update of the year:

Milwaukee Brewers 88-68

Like last season, the Brewers were constructed to prevent runs, not score them. The Brewers are boosted by an excellent pitching staff of Freddy Peralta, Brandon Woodruff, and Corbin Burnes — a three-headed monster that stacks up against anybody in the National League — and they’re HOT. Despite not having a potent offensive attack, the Brewers have stayed atop this division. Offensively, Milwaukee has been led by Rowdy Tellez and Willy Adames, similar to last season. Brian Anderson and former Brave catcher William Contreras have been welcome additions thus far.

But the biggest boost to the Brewers has been Christian Yelich’s resurgence, as he is slashing similar numbers to his peak. The Brewers also sent Devin Williams and Corbin Burnes to the All-Star game a few months ago, and they’ve kept it up. They have put some distance between themselves and their competition, are closing in on another NL Central victory, and have clinched the postseason yet again.

Since we last updated, the Brewers took three of four from St. Louis and then dropped two of three against Miami.

UP NEXT: This week, the Brewers host the Cardinals for three and the Cubs for three to end the year.

Chicago Cubs 82-74 (6.0 games back of Brewers, 1.0 games ahead of Marlins for Wild-Card spot)

The Cubs finished in third place in the NL Central last year and made it a point of focus over the offseason to make drastic improvements to the team — which also fit baseball’s new rules. The Cubs may have let Willson Contreras go, but they committed to long-term contract extensions with Nico Hoerner and Ian Happ, both of whom enjoyed breakout campaigns in 2022. Plus, the Cubs acquired Cody Bellinger for one year and Dansby Swanson to be the team’s starting shortstop for the next seven years. The Cubs had a near month-long rough patch but have since been playing great ball; thanks to a torrid hot streak from Cody Bellinger and excellent pitching performances, everything appeared to click.

The Cubs avoided selling at the trade deadline, and a strong August pushed them firmly into the playoff discussion. The Cubs sent three players to the All-Star game, Marcus Stroman, Justin Steele, and Dansby Swanson. However, an early September slump appears to put the playoffs in doubt.

It’s getting tight, and since we last updated, the Cubs dropped two of three to the Pirates and recovered with a sweep over the Rockies at Wrigley.

UP NEXT: This week, the Cubs travel to Atlanta and Milwaukee for six games with division leaders to end the season.

Cincinnati Reds 80-77 (8.5 games back)

The Reds were once again expected to be one of the worst teams in the MLB and were, early on, entirely in another rebuild. Joey Votto is the only recognizable name on a team with players like Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Nicholas Castellanos, Jesse Winker, and Eugenio Suarez. The Reds' claim to fame has been flame-thrower Hunter Greene, who was developing into a young ace in baseball before his injury. However, the last few months have been a different story for Cincy. Elly De La Cruz has burst onto the scene and turned heads, and players like rookie Matt McLain, Spencer Steer, and Jake Fraley have really stepped up offensively.

The Reds rattled off 12 consecutive victories to soar into first place but stumbled after that. The Reds also sent closer Alexis Diaz to the All-Star game.

However, since we last updated, the Reds have lost pace in the wildcard race. The Reds dropped two of three to both the Twins and Pirates.

UP NEXT: This week, the Reds are facing the Guardians for two and the Cardinals for three on the road to end the 2023 campaign.

Pittsburgh Pirates 74–82 (14 games back)

The Pirates were widely expected to finish last in this division throughout the last few years, but their progress over the years does not pencil them in as a bottom feeder in this division. Their strong start to the 2023 season had them in first place through almost a month of baseball. Bryan Reynolds is once again leading things for the Pirates, and Jack Suwinski’s 19 home runs led all rookies last year, and he has over 20 dingers on the season thus far. Andrew McCutchen has also seen some success in his return to Pittsburgh and has been a strong producer in the lineup. O’Neil Cruz was expected by many to take a giant leap this season, but he is on the injured list.

Mitch Keller has been the Bucs' best starter, and David Bednar is still closing things down in All-Star fashion. The Pirates were slight sellers at this year’s deadline. The Pirates sent Mitch Keller and David Bednar to the All-Star game.

Since we last updated, the Bucs took two of three from both playoff hopefuls, the Cubs and the Reds.

UP NEXT: This week, the Pirates travel to Philly for three and end the season against the Marlins at PNC Park.

St. Louis Cardinals 68-88 (20 games back)

The St. Louis Cardinals are the reigning NL Central Division Champions, but for the first time since I was born, this will be the first season that the Cardinals do not have Albert Pujols or Yadier Molina on the roster. The St. Louis Cardinals did not make a ton of noise in the offseason but did acquire former Cub Willson Contreras to be their new catcher — however, less than a month into the season, he had been relieved of his catching duties. Jordan Walker was their top prospect and was called up to start the season, and he has been a significant boost to the struggling birds. The Cardinals struggled severely out of the gates despite the offense led by NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt’s 18 homers and near .300 average.

The return of Adam Wainwright to the rotation and perennial All-Star Nolan Arenado looking like himself again certainly helps. Still, even as Arenado approaches 80 RBI and 25 HR, the Cardinals have not been able to go on a run. Nolan Gorman has also been solid, but not enough for St. Louis. Nolan Arenado was named to the All-Star game once again. The Cardinals traded away Jack Flaherty, Jordan Hicks, Jordan Montgomery, and Paul Dejong at the trade deadline as they try to reload.

Since we last updated, the Cardinals dropped three of four against Milwaukee and two of three against San Diego.

UP NEXT: This week, the Redbirds travel to play the Brewers and head home to host the Reds to end the miserable 2023 season.

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